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Ministry of Education

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Keeping students, teachers and staff safe in B.C schools

The June school restart saw almost 200,000 students safely return to the classroom, giving students a chance to acclimatize to new safety protocols and ensuring the Province has important information to plan for the 2020-21 school year.

The Ministry of Education has developed a five-stage approach to operate schools, depending on risk of transmission and direction from health authorities, ensuring school districts can make a quick transition if there is a second wave or a community outbreak. Schools were in Stage 3 in June 2020, with most kids in the classroom part-time. Under enhanced safety protocols, the Province is now moving to Stage 2 of the education plan.

To support and ensure the health and safety of students and staff during this pandemic, a one-time investment of $45.6 million as part of the BC COVID-19 Action Plan will support school districts and independent schools for the start of the school year.

This investment includes $23 million for more staff and staff time for cleaning schools, $9.2 million for improving and increasing access to hand hygiene and $5.1 million for cleaning supplies and $3.1 million to independent schools. There will be $2.2 million to ensure reuseable face masks are available to staff if they choose to wear one, and for all students who need to travel on school buses or public transportation outside of their learning group. This funding also includes $3 million to support remote learning, such as technology loans or software to support students with disabilities or complex needs.

More updated health and safety measures include:     

  • Increased cleaning of high-contact surfaces like door knobs, keyboards, desks and chairs; increased hand hygiene with all students, staff and visitors being required to clean their hands before boarding school buses and entering school buildings, before and after eating, using the washroom and using playground equipment.
  • School districts may also install transparent barriers for people who have more contact with others, such as front desk staff, bus drivers or food services staff, where appropriate.
  • Older students and staff may use masks in situations where the person is interacting outside their learning group and cannot maintain physical distance for an extended period of time. This includes riding the bus to school where a student may be sitting next to a person outside of their household or learning group. These masks will be available upon request.
  • If students or staff are mixing outside their learning group for electives, extracurricular activities, sports or social clubs, they will need to maintain physical distancing of two metres, while younger students will be encouraged to minimize physical contact.
  • If space is available, students should have their own seat or sit with family members on school buses.
  • Extracurricular activities in middle and secondary schools, including sports, arts or special interest clubs can occur if physical distance can be maintained between members of different learning groups and reduced physical contact can be practised by those within the same learning group. 
  • All students and staff who have travelled outside of Canada are required to self-isolate for 14 days under both provincial and federal orders. This includes students who are attending school from abroad.
Learning groups

To get the most students back in full-time in-class instruction in September, the Office of the Provincial Health Officer recommended creating cohorts (learning groups) to reduce the number of close, in-person interactions.

Learning groups are groups of students and staff who remain together throughout the school year and who primarily interact with each other.

Cohorts (learning groups) will be no more than 60 people in elementary and middle school and no more than 120 people in secondary school. It will not be necessary for students in a learning group to all be in the same class, but they will be able to interact and connect with each other as a consistent group during breaks, in common areas like the gym, library, or at the playground.

Limiting the number of people each student or staff member comes into contact with will reduce the risk of transmission and will ensure quicker contact tracking.

Learning groups are smallest in elementary and middle schools because it is more challenging for younger students to maintain physical distance. Older students are better able to minimize physical contact, practice hand hygiene and recognize if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Each school district and independent school authority will plan for their local needs based on their school populations and classroom space available.  

Elementary schools

  • Elementary schools will remain organized into classrooms as students’ primary learning environment.
  • Most elementary schools in the province can return to full-time in-class instruction with minimal modifications to school bell schedules and timetables.

Middle schools

  • Middle schools that follow an elementary school model (for instance, one classroom with one teacher) will be organized like elementary schools, with minimal modifications to school bell schedules and timetables.
  • Middle schools that follow a “junior high” model, where students move from class-to-class and take a range of subjects taught by different teachers, may need to be reorganized for full-time, in-class learning.

Secondary schools

Secondary school students will continue to be organized in classrooms, ensuring students still have access to electives and they will be able to reconfigure their learning group for each new semester. Some schools may reorganize how they offer courses, such as allowing students to take two courses at a time every 10 weeks. 

Small secondary schools

  • There are 96 public secondary schools and 49 independent schools that have fewer than 800 students. These schools will likely require only minor modifications to their bell schedules or timetables to ensure a safe, full-time return to the classroom for all students.

Medium-sized secondary schools

  • There are 104 public secondary schools and one independent school with between 800 and 1,500 students. They will need to consider modifications to their bell schedules and timetables to accommodate students in the classroom full-time.

Large secondary schools

  • There are 16 public secondary schools with between 1,500 and 2,000 students, located primarily in the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan.
  • For these larger secondary schools, school districts are looking at a variety of options to maximize in-class learning and, in rare cases, may need to offer a hybrid approach with a blend of remote online and self-directed learning.
  • Students with disabilities, those who need extra support in school and children of essential service workers will continue to receive full-time, in-class learning.